I haven’t done anything exciting in ages, mainly because I’ve been working flat-out preparing my novel Sun Storm for publication at the end of August. I thought it might be the perfect time to share a short story.
Here in northern Alberta it’s hot. Okay, I’ll admit compared to the continental US it’s really not that bad. We’re going to hit 30°C today, which translates to 86°F. As we don’t have air conditioning I feel that it’s a good temperature to sit in the shade of a tree and read a book.
I imagine those of you who are suffering through stifling temperatures to be on the beach, camping, even sitting in their yards reading. If you have a favorite place to read I’d love to hear about it.
I hope you enjoy my short story, Escape
Marilee sat at her green vinyl table tallying her meager collection of dimes and nickels. She licked her lips as she counted. She’d wanted coffee with cream since the moment she’d dragged her sleepy body out of bed. The craving was so strong she could almost taste the rich, velvety drink.
She finished counting, pounded the table with her fist, and leaned back in her rickety folding chair. Yes, she had enough to buy a small carton. She hadn’t indulged in the delicious luxury in weeks. She’d relocated to the small town of Trout Lake, in the Kootenay Mountains of British Columbia, two months ago. And was lucky enough to find a home where she could live off-the-grid, but the hand to mouth existence eroded her self-esteem, making her wonder if she’d made the right decision.
The interior of the grim little log cabin was dark, musty, and empty except for the old creaky metal-frame bed, and a faded, vinyl, patio table. Her temporary home wasn’t much to look at, but it was dry, warm, vermin-free, and safe – for now.
Using a small cracked mirror she checked her appearance. She had bathed in a nearby mountain stream this morning, using some of her precious soap. The water was so frigid she was forced to rush, not allowing herself to remember hot showers, and fluffy towels. Her long mane of auburn hair was gone, replaced with a short practical bob. She shrugged, placed the mirror face down on the table, and dismissed her reflection.
“It doesn’t matter.” How many times had she said those words in the last two months? It doesn’t matter was a mantra she’d told herself every time she stuffed her legs into the threadbare jeans she’d purchased at the thrift store, or spotted someone wearing clothes with designer labels—labels with which she was all too familiar. That life was in the past. These days she worked at being inconspicuous, a woman who blended into her surroundings.
There was a chance her husband, Brandon, would hunt her down. She had done everything to cover her tracks, but what if she’d left a clue, a small crumb he could follow? No, she’d come to this remote location, because he wouldn’t expect her to live in the country. But what if—
She stood, not allowing herself to go down that path. Replaying the past wouldn’t do any good.
Stuffing the change into her pocket, she stepped outside, squinting in the bright mid-morning sun. A wall of heat hit her like a body blow. It wasn’t yet noon, and the temperature was already oppressive. She quickened her pace, hoping to make it to town before the stifling temperatures made hiking on the winding, mountain highway unbearable.
Jack Sweeney, a local rancher, and her landlord, pulled up beside her in his new, red pickup truck. He rolled down the window and smiled. His light grey eyes intense as he took in every detail of her appearance. “Need a ride? I’m heading into town.”
Part of her wanted to refuse. She didn’t want to get in his vehicle. She didn’t want to talk to him. He was too curious, too attentive. She glanced at the heat shimmering off the highway. The blistering temperature made walking impractical, and she’d seem rude if she didn’t accept.
“If it’s no bother,” she said, looking at the road, the ground, anywhere, but him.
He stretched across the truck, and opened the passenger door. “Hop in. Where’re you heading?”
“Hopkins store.” The General Store was the one-stop-shop for Trout Lake. An old-fashioned merchant where you could buy milk, nails, and catch up on town gossip. Marilee climbed onto the luxurious leather seat.
The muscles of his arms flexed under his tanned skin, as he nudged back his wide-brimmed cowboy hat. “How many times do I have to tell you, you don’t have to be scared of me? You’re safe here. In Trout Lake we look after our own.”
She gave him a small smile, and then turned to look at the scenery. “You’re kind. I guess it’ll take time.”
Jack swore under his breath. “It breaks my heart to see a woman’s spirit crushed. She didn’t reply. It wasn’t a comment that required an answer.
“I know you’ve never said anything, but word is your husband abused you, and
you’re hiding out.”
Marilee schooled her features, hoping her emotions didn’t show on her face.
“You’ve been talking about me?”
“You’re a new face in a small town, there’s bound to be talk.”
Her heart stopped. Perhaps coming to a community with only two hundred people
wasn’t such a great idea. She should have stayed in Calgary where she would be one anonymous face among millions. No, remaining in the city hadn’t been an option. Brandon’s tentacles reached to every part of town from the mansions of Roxboro to the drug addled alleys of the downtown core. He would have found her if she’d stayed.
Jack pulled up in front of the store. Marilee scrambled out of the truck, waved goodbye, and darted inside.
She wasn’t surprised to find the shop packed with chattering women. Hopkins was a communal meeting place. She ignored the crowd, and grabbed a tiny carton of cream from the glass, and steel fridge. As she made her way to the cash register the crowd hushed. A cold chill inched up her spine. Something was wrong, very wrong. She’d worked hard at being invisible, but had made a fundamental mistake by moving here. She saw that now. Everyone knew everyone else’s business in a small town, and a woman who lived off-the-grid in a tiny cabin was bound to be a curiosity.
Mrs. Hopkins, a rail thin woman with white hair, broke the silence. “Marilee, I should tell you there was a man in here thirty minutes ago saying terrible things about you.”
“What man? What things?” Her legs weakened, and her knees threatened to buckle. She leaned against the counter for support.
“He said he was your husband, and you had stolen half a million dollars from him.”
“He’s here.” Her vision blurred, and for a moment she thought she might faint. She inhaled through her nose, held her breath for the count of eight, and then released the air through her mouth. She wanted to turn, and run, but her legs wouldn’t cooperate.
“We don’t believe a word of it, do we ladies?” Mrs. Hopkins announced. A chorus of agreement echoed around the room.
“No, if that were true the police would be looking for me,” Marilee said, more to herself than her audience.
“Oh, he said the police are investigating, and now he’s found you, he’ll make sure they come for you today.”
“I have to get away.” She mustered her strength, and took a step toward the door.
“Stop,” Mrs. Hopkins ordered. “Running won’t help, but I have a plan. I’ve called Jack. He’s coming to pick you up. He'll drive you back to your cabin where you will collect all your things. There is to be no evidence once you are done. Do you understand?”
“You’re going to help me?”
“Of course. Once you have your belongings Jack will drive you back to town.
We’ll transfer you from house to house as needed. The first night you will stay with Thelma.” Mrs. Hopkins pointed to a rather portly, grey haired woman, standing by her side. “And in the mean time, we will introduce him to the art of misdirection.”
The art of misdirection. Who was this woman? Had Mrs. Hopkins secretly run black ops? Or maybe she’d read too many spy novels? If Marilee had to guess she would have said it was the novels. “That’s kind of you, but—”
“There’s Jack outside. Go.”
Marilee ran. As she reached the truck a large hand seized her wrist.
“Hello Monica, it’s so nice to see you again.”
She bit back a scream, and prayed for composure as she turned to face Brandon,
the man who had once been her husband.
“What have you done with my money?” Spittle gathered at the corners of his
mouth as his handsome features twisted with rage. He wore a white designer shirt that stretched across his wide shoulders. Marilee knew he worked out every day in order to keep his physique toned, fit, and strong.
Maybe if she reasoned with him. “I don’t know what—”
“Don’t say another word. Everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie. So don’t bother trying to deny you stole half a million dollars from me because I know you did. I also know Monica isn’t your real name.”
A brown stick flashed between them as a loud smack sounded. Brandon yelped, released Marilee, and jumped back, clutching his injured arm.
Mrs. Hopkins held a broom handle like a baseball bat, ready to strike again. “Don’t touch her, you good for nothing louse.”
“You don’t understand. She’s a thief. She stole my money.” Brandon took another step back.
“You’re just saying that to get her back. We all know you beat her.” The older woman moved to stand between Marilee, and Brandon.
“What?” His eye’s widened, and his mouth fell open. Jack honked the horn. “Get in.”
Marilee dived into the pickup, landing in a jumbled mess. She struggled to put on her seatbelt as Jack hit the gas.
“I’ll take you to my place,” Jack said.
“No, I want to go back to my cabin.” She turned to see her ex-husband surrounded by a pack of angry women. “I hope they don’t kill him.”
“He’ll be a bit bruised, but he’ll know better than to come here, and try and take you.”
“You’re very kind, but what if he really did call the police? Won’t you get into trouble for helping me?”
“You let me worry about that. Thelma has a son on the force. I’ll call him, and we’ll get this loser sorted out.”
“Thank you.” Marilee put a hand to her chest in an attempt to calm her racing heart.
He came to a stop in front of the cabin. “Grab whatever you need. I’ll be back in fifteen minutes.”
“Where are you going?”
“To get my rifle, just in case there’s trouble. I won’t be long.”
Marilee waited until the truck drove away, before she marched into the dark, cool
interior. It was time to leave.
She went straight to the bed, groped under the mattress, and plucked out a set of
keys. Then, she headed to the back of the property. As soon as she reached the cover of the forest she broke into a run, hoping to make it to the next valley before nightfall.
The sun hung low on the western horizon when she arrived at the clearing near the narrow, paved road. There was just enough light left for her to find the motorbike in the undergrowth. She dragged the Harley out, and checked to make sure everything was in working order.
Then she searched for the hollow tree where she’d hidden her things, and yanked out three plastic, garbage bags. The first two contained her helmet, and leathers. These were invaluable to her escape. If she travelled by car someone might be able to give her description to the police, but her bike gear concealed her physical appearance. A passer- by would be hard pressed to describe anything about her.
She turned her attention to the third plastic bag. It contained a leather saddlebag. Undoing the clasp, she checked to make sure her fake ID, and money were still there.
She almost felt sorry for Brandon...almost. He’d lied when he’d accused her of stealing half a million dollars. She’d stolen closer to one million.
She shook her head and climbed on the bike. The good people of Trout Lake had assumed she’d been abused, but she’d never said so, she just kept her eyes down, and her mouth shut. Their collective imagination had done the rest. It was almost a shame to go, where else would she find a whole town just waiting to be fleeced, but she couldn’t stay. Brandon was sleazy when it came to his business practices so there was a good chance the money was already stolen, and he hadn’t contacted the authorities. But Jack was a straight arrow, a man who said exactly what he meant, and he would call the police. Once they investigated they’d find she operated under a long list of aliases, and had left a trail of marks in her wake.
She steered the bike onto the highway, heading for Vancouver. Once there, she would dye her hair blonde, get some extensions, and become Brittany Lamoure. A woman who wore short skirts, low cut tops, and liked sugar daddies. She laughed as the bike roared up the highway. Tomorrow she would definitely have cream in her coffee.